If you travelled from Western Australia north-west across the Indian Ocean, the first country you would encounter has been described as ‘Hell on Earth’. You will find there civil war, famine…
‘Everybody in those strained, crazed days had his own story to tell and all those stories cannot be told here.’
This book, first published as ‘Keep the Memory Green’ in 1950 and renamed ‘Dunkirk’ after the release of the film ‘Dunkirk’ in 1958, is being republished digitally by Sapere Books. It’s a timely republication: a new ‘Dunkirk’ movie was released in 2017, and hopefully some viewers will be tempted to read more about the events of Dunkirk.
But why this book? This account was originally written by Lt. Colonel Ewan Butler and Major J. S. Bradford some years after the events portrayed. Both men were part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and sought to share their memory of events so that the importance of these events is not lost. This is an account of the BEF, as it moved through French and Belgian territories, of its interactions with citizens, all the time aware of advancing German forces. It’s an account of events leading up to, and including, the withdrawal of troops from Dunkirk.
‘It is ten years ago, now – a short time in the span of history.’
Writing ten years after the events of 1939-40 perhaps allowed the authors to provide a more detached account of their observation of events. This is an account of the BEF rather than an account of the military campaign. For me as a reader, born during the 1950s and more familiar with other theatres of World War II, this account speaks to the bravery of men and the heroism of ‘ordinary people’ in extraordinary circumstances. Military histories focus on campaigns, on strategies, on ‘wins’ and ‘defeats’. Accounts such as this provide a more human dimension to events, and provide some insight into morale. If you are interested in an account of Dunkirk written by soldiers who were participants, I recommend this book.
‘This is not a heartening book, but the gallantry which it portrays is so immensely moving, so well told, as to be almost heartening.’
Note: My thanks to Sapere Books for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.